Wyoming’s North Platte Lodge
By Kent Danjanovich
Wyoming is famous for a lot of things; rugged mountains, pioneer trails, lots of open space, windy conditions here and there and an abundance of wildlife making it a hunter’s paradise. But the thing that sometimes gets overlooked is its extraordinary fishing opportunities. One such area of the state that calls to fishermen from around the world is the city of Casper and it just happens to be split right down the middle by one of the most famous trout rivers in the United States – the North Platte.
The North Platte River headwaters form and gather in the North Park area of northern Colorado. Flowing northerly, the North Platte River enters southern Wyoming where other important feeder rivers and streams feed it. The Douglas and Encampment Rivers, as well as the French Creek, all feed the North Platte River with snowpack run-off.
From the southern border of Wyoming to Seminoe Reservoir, the North Platte River is a freestone river and experiences heavy snowpack runoff from about mid-May through the first part of June. It probably fishes its best just before and after runoff and then again in the fall.
Still flowing northerly, from Seminoe Reservoir to Alcova Reservoir, there are two Blue Ribbon tail waters. The Miracle Mile and Grey Reef sections have both been recognized as trophy tail waters that produce large rainbows, browns and cutthroats. Fremont Canyon below Pathfinder Reservoir is a new tail water that has been reestablished through negotiations with a landowner, Bureau of Reclamation and Wyoming Game and Fish. We will talk a little about all of them in this article.
The Grey Reef section gets a lot of press and with good reason. It just may be the best rainbow trout tail water in the lower 48. It has limited public access and is best fished from a boat. It fishes best from March through July then again in the fall months from September through November. Grey Reef is a typical tail water and is fished most using nymphs and streamers. Dry fly fishing is limited to sporadic activity in the spring to some good dry fly fishing in the fall on Trico’s and Blue Wing Olives. Nymphing is usually done with two flies with the top fly being an attractor fly such as a scud or San Juan worm trailed by either a midge or baetis pattern.
This section, which starts just below the Grey Reef Dam is home to the North Platte Lodge and The Reef Fly Shop. Trent Tatum and Erik Aune purchased the operation back in 2007 after both had worked at the lodge for a number of years. During that time, they fell in love with the area and recognized the potential that laid before them. Now, not only do they offer visitors the very best in fishing opportunities, but also outstanding big game, waterfowl and upland bird options as well.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the fishing for now. The North Platte River is a diverse and prolific river that produces not only large quantities of trout, but just plain and simple – big fish. The largest trout caught weighed and measured, came from the Grey Reef section was a brown that weighed a whopping 22 lbs. Rainbows are commonly caught in the five-pound to double digit range, but most fish average 16 to 20 inches. Believe me, if you have not yet had a chance to experience the North Platte River, it should be placed on your to do list.
The Grey Reef stretch of the North Platte River formed below the Grey Reef Reservoir, has been recognized as a trophy Blue Ribbon tail water. The flush and flow management, coupled with the artificial fly and lure only regulations, have produced an exceptional wild rainbow trout fishery and aptly referred to as the last untouched tail water in the west. Many say that Grey Reef fly fishing is what the Bighorn and San Juan rivers were like 15 years ago. This is the most productive and consistent stretch for large trout on the North Platte River. The upper 12 miles of the Grey Reef is said to be home to over 8,000 fish per mile. The 36 miles of river above Casper and 30-some miles below offer world class trout fishing with a legitimate shot at a 10-pound fish.
First glance at this river reveals little difference between it and any other in the west, with similar flows, hatches and terrain. But the amazing thing you will immediately notice is – you really don’t have a lot of other fishermen to deal with during your day on the water, as I was able to see, first-hand, during my trip the second week in May.
After landing at the Casper Airport, I grabbed my rental car and headed to the lodge, located about 30 miles southwest of Casper, in the small town of Alcova. I first stopped in at The Reef Fly Shop to pick up my two-day license and meet the crew. A total renovation of the fly shop was in progress and as one of the guides was finding my info in the system, Trent greeted me and gave me a tour of the shop and the RV hook-ups and guest cottages adjacent to the building. Then it was back into the car for a short drive around the corner to the North Platte Lodge.
Upon arrival, we grabbed my bags and headed to one of the rooms on the bottom floor. I dropped off my waders and gear in the locker room on the way in and then threw my bag on one of the two queen beds in room number two, one of four on the bottom floor along with two more on the main floor of the lodge.
After a little down time, hors d’oeuvre and mingling with other guests, our host soon called us to the dinner table. We were greeted first with salads, then perfectly cooked filets that you could almost cut with a fork and all the fixin's. After dinner, we were assigned our guides for our first day on the water and after a little more chit-chat, it was off to bed, with visions of rainbows and browns dancing in our heads.
The next morning, we all met for breakfast at 7 a.m., then into our waders and out the door to our awaiting guides. Myself and fellow outdoor writer, Josh Bergan, would be sharing the boat with our guide, Rick Aune. With the Grey Reef Dam only a few hundred yards away, we jumped in the truck and headed to the put-in.
Rick quickly had everything ready as he backed his drift boat into the water and I grabbed the bow rope as he parked the truck and trailer. I then headed to the seat up front and Josh settled in aft, behind Rick, who was of course at the oars. Rick then set up our rods with a three-fly string, with a bead-head pheasant tail at the top, a red annelid in the middle and a small baetis with a speck of foam trailing. We would change back and forth from one to two tin split-shot throughout the day and of course a movable strike indicator above it all to accommodate the depth of each run.
Three or four boats were positioned near the put in, as guides were filling their clients in on the techniques they would be using before heading down river. Rick made his way around them and as we rounded the first bend, he told us to get ready on the left side as we hit the riffle on the gentle drop-off.
“Not too long of a cast is needed”, Rick instructed us and with a quick mend, my indicator dipped and I was hooked into my first North Platte fish of the trip. After a good fight, Rick slipped his net under the belly a beautiful 20-inch rainbow, with its coloration indicative of just coming out of the spawn with a bright red rainbow down its full length. With Rick taking us back to the top of the run each time we reached the bottom, Josh and I were able to hook-up on nearly a dozen fish a piece. What a start to an amazing day on the river. And the most amazing thing to me was the fact that every fish that we landed was in the 17- to 22-inch range. Now I know that there has to be some smaller fish in the river, but literally every fish we caught fell into that range.
Josh and I each took turns with the hot hand and set-up, but by the end of the day, I don’t think either of us could complain too much. And it didn’t hurt that we were fishing with a great guide, one that literally knows every ripple in the river and I think even many of the fish on a first name basis!
Our drift on this day was about 7 ½ miles and by 5 p.m., we had found our way back to the lodge. Before dinner, our schedule for the next day was planned out as we would be putting back in where we had taken out and floating down another eight miles or so. At the end of our drift, we would then take a little trip to the other waters in the area; Seminoe, Pathfinder, and Alcova reservoirs and Fremont Canyon for an extended overview of the watersheds.
After such an outstanding first day, our guide on day two, Eric Anderson, had his work cut out for him. But you know what? He proved to be up to the test. The clear blue skies made it a little bit harder to be stealthy, but the fish still cooperated in grand style throughout the many great runs in this section of the river for myself and fishing partner on the day, Tia Troy of Lightning Bug Public Relations. And I finally landed my first nice brown of the trip as well. By the time we pulled into the take-out, our boat had landed well over 50 fish on the day. We quickly loaded up the boat and headed for a grand tour of the area.
The following is an overview of our next two hours exploring the area:
Miracle Mile Fly Fishing – “The Mile” as it’s known to locals is actually a seven-mile-long tail water section of the North Platte (depending on Pathfinder Reservoir levels) with consistent, cold water from Seminoe Reservoir above creating ideal big trout habitat. A recognized Blue Ribbon trout stream, the Miracle Mile holds some of the biggest trout in the lower 48. Springtime brings a giant migration of rainbow trout from Pathfinder. In late fall and early winter, the same migration occurs with brown trout. It is an extremely fertile tail water that offers anglers a chance to catch very large trophy trout. At approximately 4,000 fish per mile, averaging 16-21 inches and of course some real bruisers, fly fishermen will have plenty of opportunities to catch their fish of a lifetime. It is the largest continuous section of public water on the North Platte other than the section through the Medicine Bow National Forest. The scenery here is truly breathtaking and only about a thirty-minute drive from Alcova.
The North Platte/Fremont Canyon section is another awesome wade fishery just outside of Alcova, Wyoming. Great dry fly fishing for very sizable trout is possible almost all year in Fremont Canyon.
The North Platte flows through the Pathfinder Dam. It then makes its way through a small canyon before entering what is known as Cardwell. This section of the river meanders for approximately 1.5 miles through the meadow stream (Cardwell Access Area). The water consists of skinny riffles, seams and small pools. The stream is not much bigger than a small mountain steam. This section is accessible to the public on both sides of the stream.
At the end of the meadow starts the actual Fremont Canyon. This has big boulders, deep pools and riffles. This hike is not for every angler, but there are huge fish lurking in the depths for the adventurous.
Sadly, my latest trip to the North Platte had come to an end. But believe me, it will definitely not be my last! And a return trip to the Miracle Mile and Fremont Canyon sections will be included in my next visit as well. We are proud to welcome the North Platte Lodge as our newest Platinum Approved Outfitter, as their operation is first class in every way. And remember, they are not just a great fishing lodge either. They offer some of the best big game hunting in the west on some of the most sought-after areas in Wyoming. Give them a call today at 307-237-1182 to talk about all of the possibilities. We will also be including them in our Pro Membership Sweepstakes in 2020, so keep an eye out for that opportunity as well.